The parents of young brain tumour sufferer Ashya King could be at his bedside within the next few hours as prosecutors have now dropped extradition proceedings against the couple. The Spanish Court which was processing the case will need to convene to make the move official before Mr and Mrs King can be released from jail. It is not clear when that will take place.
The legal proceedings were dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service following the delivery of a petition signed by 126,000 members of the public to 10 Downing Street, home of Prime Minister David Cameron. Mr Cameron later joined his Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg in casting doubts over whether the scale of the legal operation against the Kings was justified.
There has been a national outcry over the police pursuit of the family and their subsequent arrest, after Mr King released a ten minute statement on YouTube explaining that they had removed Ashya from hospital to seek a potentially life-saving treatment in a Prague that had been denied to them by the NHS. Nearly 177,000 people have now signed the petition, which was organised by 16 year old family friend Ethan Dallas.
The couple still face an eight hour drive to the hospital where Ashya, 5, is being cared for, making it likely that the youngster will be facing his third night without his parents since they were arrested last Saturday, charged of neglect for removing him from Southampton General Hospital. His siblings, however, are likely to now be allowed to see him. Police had been preventing them from entering their brother’s room.
Ashya King, is suffering from a medulloblastoma brain tumour and was being treated in Southampton NHS Hospital before being removed by his father Brett King, 51, last week. Mr King and his wife Naghmeh made the decision to remove Ashya after being denied proton beam therapy on the NHS, despite repeated requests from the family that he receive the treatment, which they felt would give a better chance of survival.
Proton beam therapy is thought to be more accurate than conventional radiotherapy in targeting cancer cells, and therefore more able to deliver better outcomes both in terms of defeating the cancer and on the lasting effects of treatment. However, the treatment is currently not available in the UK. Since 2008, 370 NHS patients have been approved for proton beam therapy in the United States, at a cost of around £90,000 per person to the NHS. The patient has to fund some aspects, such as meals whilst abroad.
Speaking in a YouTube video posted to explain the family’s actions in removing Ashya from hospital, Mr King said “We pleaded with them for proton beam treatment. They looked at me straight in the face and said with his cancer – which is called medulloblastoma – it would have no benefit whatsoever.
“I went straight back to my room and looked it up and the American sites and French sites and Switzerland sites where they have proton beam said the opposite, it would be very beneficial for him.
“Then I spoke to them again, I wrote a letter which he never responded to, saying OK – I will sell my property in order to pay for the proton beam.”
It is understood that the family, including their six other children, travelled first to Spain because they own a property there which they had planned to sell to secure the money for the treatment. They were then planning to travel on to the Czech Republic for the proton beam treatment. The treatment is available in most European states.
However, upon advice from British doctors that Ashya was at risk, the British police issued a European Arrest Warrant and staged a Europe-wide man hunt. The couple were apprehended at their hotel near Malaga in Spain after local police received a tip-off from the hotel’s receptionist. She had recognised the family from news reports.
Ros Barnes, whose son Alex travelled to the US for successful proton beam treatment, told Sky News that she would have done the same thing as the King family, saying “We were told the same thing, that Alex’s tumour wasn’t suitable for proton therapy by the NHS here in this country.
“The alternative here was radiotherapy, and he was only four years old at the time it would have caused extreme brain damage and probably wouldn’t have worked either. So yes, I would have done the same as this family.
“They wanted us to have the operation here and for him to have radiotherapy, but he would have been blind, brain damaged and in a wheelchair, if he survived, and his prognosis was terrible. The Americans said ‘This is a new treatment and it’s really good. This is what we’re using on our kids now’. It made sense and it was safe for very small children as it doesn’t cause those side effects later on in life such as secondary cancers which radiotherapy can cause.
“It was so difficult to go against the doctors here because they were all saying the same thing, ‘oh you know they’re only after your money, it hasn’t been tried and tested’, but actually when I spoke to the Americans and got the scans sent over there they said ‘No, we’ve dealt with this type of cancer before, we do it all the time and we think he’s a very good candidate for proton.”
Mrs Barnes added that 450 children are diagnosed each year with brain tumours, but there is only NHS funding for 20 a year to travel to the States. It was her opinion that Ashya was deemed ineligible for the treatment “just because of money”.
The Barnes family were able to fund the treatment for Alex themselves.
The case raises serious concerns over the role of the state versus the role of the family in relation to the care of children. Portsmouth Council secured a legal writ making Ashya their ward on Friday, and are insisting that he be returned to England for radiotherapy treatment, a course of treatment that his parents had spurned in favour of the more modern proton beam treatment.
Meanwhile, the clinic in Prague that the family were hoping to visit has stated that it is willing to treat Ashya with proton beam therapy within the next few days, provided that his English doctors send over the medical paperwork. A legal tussle over Ashya’s treatment is now expected.
Questions are also being asked over how a European Arrest Warrant was secured in the first place, as it is clear that the Kings are not the neglectful parents they were made out to be. The Kings have vowed to sue Southampton General Hospital for defamation.
Speaking during the video, Mr King alleged that the consultant oncologist had threatened the Kings with a protection order preventing them from seeing their son if they continued to question his judgement on treatment. Mr King said “We couldn’t take it any more – not knowing and not being able to question anything in fear that they say, ‘Sorry Mr and Mrs King, emergency protection order, you’re no longer allowed in the ward’. Under that stress, our son has grade four brain tumour, we couldn’t discuss or question them at all in fear that our son would be in that ward all day long by himself without his parents being able to come in.
“We couldn’t be under that system any more.”